BBC apologizes to queen for disclosure of remarks on Abu Hamza al-Masri


The BBC apologized on Sept. 26, 2012 for revealing details of a conversation with Queen Elizabeth II in which the monarch allegedly voiced concerns about the U.K.'s inability to arrest a radical cleric. (RUI VIEIRA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
September 25, 2012

The BBC publicly apologized to Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday after one of its reporters disclosed a private conversation he had with the monarch about a radical cleric who faces imminent extradition to the United States to face terrorism charges.

The apology came a day after Abu Hamza al-Masri lost an eight-year battle against deportation to the United States, where his alleged crimes include attempting to establish a terrorist training camp in Bly, Ore., and masterminding a plot to kidnap Westerners in Yemen.

The respected BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said the queen had told him years ago that she was upset that Masri — whose fiery, anti-Western sermons had made him the face of Islamist extremism in Britain — apparently could not be arrested. Gardner also said the queen had raised the issue with the government’s then-home secretary.

Speaking on the “Today” program, BBC Radio 4’s flagship news program, Gardner said: “Actually, I can tell you that the queen was pretty upset that there was no way to arrest him. She couldn’t understand why. Surely there had been some law that he had broken? In the end, sure enough, there was. He was eventually convicted and sentenced for seven years for soliciting murder and racial hatred.”

James Naughtie, a BBC journalist interviewing Gardner, responded, “That’s a fascinating piece of information, Frank.”

“Yes, I thought I’d drop that in. She told me,” Gardner said.

“Drop it in? That’s a corker!” Naughtie said.

Gardner elaborated on the queen’s questioning of the situation, adding of Masri: “He was conducting these radical activities, and he called Britain a toilet. He was incredibly anti-British, and yet he was sucking up money from this country for a long time . . . and he was a huge embarrassment to Muslims, who condemned him.”

In contrast to her eldest son, Prince Charles, the queen is famous for her inscrutability and her adeptness at eluding political conversations.

That is not to say that she is uninformed. For the past 60 years, she has met with the prime minister of the day, usually on a weekly basis. But there are no records of those meetings — indeed, there is an understanding here that conversations with the queen that are held in private remain private.

And so, within hours of the Gardner interview, an embarrassed BBC issued a “breaking news alert” and stated that “the conversation should have remained private and the BBC and Frank deeply regret this breach of confidence. It was wholly inappropriate. Frank is extremely sorry for the embarrassment caused and has apologised to the Palace.”

A spokeswoman for Buckingham Palace said it would not be commenting.

The anti-monarchy campaign group Republic criticized the queen for weighing in on a political matter. “We’re told the Queen is above politics and never gets involved, yet she has apparently admitted that she has interfered in a controversial issue,” Republic spokesman Graham Smith said in a statement.

On Monday, Masri and four other men lost a last-ditch attempt to avoid extradition when the European Court of Human Rights upheld an earlier ruling that had concluded their human rights would not be violated at a U.S. trial.

A spokeswoman for Britain’s Home Office said that Masri, who is blind in one eye and wears a hook for a hand, will be deported “as soon as possible.”

Karla Adam is a reporter in the Washington Post’s London bureau. Before joining the Post in 2006, she worked as a freelancer in London for the New York Times and People magazine.
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